US: Taiwan can’t buy F-16 jets

Lockheed Martin's slim hopes of getting a big order from Taiwan for new F-16 fighter jets may already have been dashed.
A delegation of Pentagon officials attending a defense trade show in Taipei over the weekend told their Taiwanese counterparts that the Obama administration would not approve a requested sale of 66 state-of-the-art F-16s, according to a report Monday in Defense News. The F-16 is built by Lockheed in west Fort Worth.
Instead of new planes, the report says, the U.S. will agree to let Taiwan buy major upgrade kits, including the latest radar technology.
"We are so disappointed in the United States," the publication quoted an unnamed Taiwanese official saying.
Neither Defense nor State Department officials returned phone calls Monday seeking comment on the report.
One Washington foreign-policy analyst who supports the sale of fighter jets to Taiwan said the final decision probably hasn't been formally made, since it was just over two weeks ago that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed to consider the request.
"I'd be a little surprised if the [U.S.] team that traveled there had the final word," said Gary Schmitt, analyst with the American Enterprise Institute. "But the Taiwanese may be reading the tea leaves properly."
Lockheed said in a statement that the company "has not been informed by the United States Government of a final decision regarding the sale of new F-16s to Taiwan or of upgrades to its existing fleet."
Taiwan has sought for several years to buy the new F-16 C/D models, but both the Bush and Obama administrations have declined to allow a sale out of deference to China.
The Obama administration had refused to even consider such a request until last month. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, held up Senate consideration of the nomination of a senior State Department official until he extracted a pledge from Clinton to review and decide on the F-16 issue.
Cornyn's office had no comment Monday.
A deal for 66 new jets would be a boon for the Lockheed plant in Fort Worth. The company says that without new F-16 orders, the production line will be shut down by the end of 2013, and parts of it would begin to shut down this year. A Taiwan deal would provide up to two years' worth of work for the plant, which employs about 2,000 people on F-16 work.
Lockheed and the U.S. are believed to be in negotiations with two or three other countries, including Iraq and Oman, on F-16 orders.
Bob Cox, 817-390-7723

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